An amphibious boat worthy of 007
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The amphibious Iguana X100 is an unusual take on the traditional day boat formula. The idea for the craft – which, in addition to its seafaring outboard motors, is equipped with tank tracks and an inboard engine to power it on land – came when Iguana’s founder Antoine Brugidou struggled to launch his boat at low tide in Normandy. There, local sailors typically tow their boats over rocks, mud and sand until it’s deep enough to launch – and space in marinas is scarce.
The former business consultant and boating enthusiast started to design and develop his idea for a boat that was able to land and launch on its own in 2008. He brought his first amphibious boat with tracks, the Iguana 29, to market in 2011 and has expanded the range to nine models, ranging from the X100 to solid-hull versions and a Professional line for the security and rescue industry.
The Iguana will appeal to a small but dedicated group of sailors who, like Brugidou, have no immediate access to the sea other than via challenging terrain. They could also choose a RIB by a company such as Ocean Craft Marine or Sealegs, which makes boats with wheels that drop down like an aircraft’s landing gear, but the Iguana’s tracks make it more suited to rough ground, affording its owners the luxury of landing (almost) anywhere that takes their fancy. For waterfront and estuary dwellers, the Iguana negates the need for a towing or launching vehicle, meaning you can climb in, turn it on and drive down directly to the water’s edge.
When I encounter the X100 for the first time, moored up in Berthon’s Lymington Marina on a sunny day on England’s south coast, I find it difficult to tell if there’s anything that sets it apart from the other sizable RIBs in the bay. Measuring just shy of 10m long, the Iguana X100 sports a solid carbon fibre-reinforced hull topped with an inflatable RIB collar. It’s only on closer inspection, near the water line, that it’s possible to see the opening on each side that stores the X100’s party piece – its deployable caterpillar tracks. When retracted, only the base of the track can be seen – otherwise, the X100 is a sleek and sophisticated-looking day boat.
Three more amphibians to buy
On board there’s enough room for 12 people at a push – or fewer than 10 to keep things comfortable – and storage under the seat in front of the cockpit. At the back, there’s a sociable seating layout and room to mount a table when the time calls for lunch. In the cockpit, there are two forward-facing seats equipped with suspension to cushion blows from waves while out at sea.
Powering the X100 are two 300hp Mercury Pro XS engines, giving this Iguana a top speed of 50 knots. I ease the throttle and the X100 cuts across the sea as the speedometer clocks into the high 40s. The sensation of speed is thrilling with only the windscreen shielding the driver from the sea breeze, yet despite the impressive speeds, the X100 remains sturdy and planted, even through tight turns.
The craft’s stability is largely down to the added weight of the caterpillar tracks, which add another tonne to the vessel, giving it a total weight of nearly 3.5 tonnes. But with no shortage of power from the rear, the X100 still feels agile out at sea.
The X100’s party piece is, of course, its ability to land anywhere. Testing that theory out, we slow the speed and head for the nearest and steepest slipway. As we cruise towards it bow first, the tracks swing down into the water at the touch of a button on the dashboard, and the inboard petrol engine fires into life. Two toggles to the left of the wheel control the speed and direction of each track, so pushing them both forward starts to ease the boat up the slipway with a reassuring jolt once the tracks bite on the surface below the water. Bewildered onlookers stop and stare as the 10m amphibian climbs out of the water like something from The Spy Who Loved Me. It’s a surreal feeling driving down the road to the boat yard as cars edge past with caution.
Testing out the turning circle, I push on the right toggle to swing the boat 180 degrees and back towards the water. The X100’s tank tracks mean the vessel’s turning circle on dry land is impossibly small, pivoting on its axis at the flick of a switch. Backing up into the water is the best entry method, I’m told, so we reverse into the water until the engines are submerged, pull up the tracks and burble off back to port.
While amphibious vehicles are nothing new, Brugidou has pulled off a remarkable feat of engineering – combining two elements from two very separate technical worlds. For those who absolutely need to caterpillar track down to the water, and have €320,000 to spare, it’s a practical bit of kit; for the rest of us it’s reassuring to know that the 007 spirit is alive and kicking. iguana-yachts.com